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When a line of argument appears twice in Mainstream Media publications on consecutive days, it’s hard not to conclude that a trend might be forming – or has been well underway. And when it comes to the particular line of argument I’m posting about, that’s disturbing news, since it’s an especially repugnant form of blaming the victim that could become dangerously influential. For these views can all too easily become rationales for official paralysis in the face of major threats, or excessively feeble responses, because the media organizations spreading these views are still taken so seriously by so many U.S. policymakers.

The first example of such blaming the victim comes from Edward G. Luce, a columnist for the Financial Times. Now before you go objecting that both this pundit and his newspaper are British, keep in mind that the author is based in Washington, D.C. and that the Times has long published a U.S. edition that’s must reading in high level American policy circles that are by no means confined to business and economics.

In his March 1 offering on how some revised American intelligence assessments of the CCP Virus lab leak theory might impact U.S.-China relations, Luce worries that “America’s growing tendency to demonise China — and the fact that China keeps supplying it with material — poses a threat to global health” and could poison the entire spectrum of bilateral ties because “The world’s superpower and its rising great power are both now working from home and nourishing paranoia about each other.”

It’s the first half of this analysis that especially caught my eye. According to Luce, practically the entire U.S. political system is increasingly “demonising” China – phrasing that, along with the follow-on reference to “paranoia,” can only mean that U.S. positions on the entire range of Sino-American relations have become unjustifiably harsh.

But at the same time, he notes that “China keeps supplying [Americans] with material.” That sounds like a confession that China’s record actually does warrant more confrontational stances in Washington. Luce’s contention of mutual paranoia stoking, however, indicates that this isn’t what he believes at all.

Practically identical is Luce’s observation that “Beijing’s reluctance to play global citizen on pandemic warning systems — on top of climate change and other common threats — means we are hearing far less from Washington about co-operating with China and far more about confronting it.”

Yet how is Luce advising the United States to deal with a country that he himself believes isn’t buying the argument about the need for cooperation on issues of common concern? Simply, it seems, by talking as much as ever or even more about “co-operating with China” – which appears to reflect the hope that some particularly inspiring official U.S. verbiage can bring Beijing around and of course a clear triumph over experience.

The second example of such victim blaming came in a book review published the following day in the Washington Post. Writing about American historian Melvyn Leffler’s new study of the 2003 U.S. Iraq War, French political scientist Mario del Pero describes Leffler as arguing that President George W. Bush and his top advisors

were imbued with a ‘sense of exceptional goodness and greatness’ and believed in the superiority of ‘America’s system of democratic capitalism.’ This hubris encouraged a strategy that favored deploying America’s overwhelming power to protect the country and its way of life. The terrorist attacks fed this arrogance and blinded the administration to the moral and strategic issues it confronted.”

Leave aside the suggestion that belief in the superiority of “America’s system of democratic capitalism” is ipso facto a sign of “hubris” and “arrogance” (which strikes me as weird) and the contention that the Bush administration underestimated “the moral and strategic issues it confronted” (more persuasive IMO, especially the strategic part).

Concentrate instead on the final sentence about the September 11 attacks “feeding” the administration’s “arrogance.” This sounds just like Luce’s portrayal of over-the-top U.S. responses to Chinese provocations that he concedes in the next breath have been awfully provocative. Unless American leaders post-September 11 should have viewed that day’s strikes as a one-off?

Yet del Pero makes clear that Leffler makes no such argument. The author (in del Pero’s words) maintains that

>U.S. leaders “believed that America’s way of life was under threat”;

>”The shared assumption — within the administration as well as among allies and arms-control experts — was that Iraq still had secret weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programs. The new global landscape made the possibility of a WMD-armed Iraq all the more ominous”; and

>“No threat [Leffler’s words] worried Bush and his advisers more than the prospect of terrorists getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction.”

Finally, (back to the reviewer’s words) “Intelligence was inconclusive and some of it, it was later realized, simply fabricated. But no risks could be taken.”

In other words, even though this second Iraq War turned out terribly, the idea that the dangers of global terrorism “fed” a Bush administration “arrogance” and “hubris” that presumably was already bloated is far too dismissive. Instead, the grievous damage already done by such terrorism, the genuinely frightful and plausible prospect of more to come – and possibly sooner rather than later – and the frustrating uncertainties policymakers always face in crises, mean that the 2003 invasion is best seen as an understandable and entirely rational response.

In fact, reviewer del Pero winds up substantially agreeing, calling Bush’s approach “coherent in theory.” Also worth keeping in mind. At least rhetorically, Bush didn’t start out as a chest-thumping foreign policy President.

In his October 11, 2000 debate with Democratic rival Al Gore during his first campaign for President, Bush stated:

If we’re an arrogant nation [other countries will] resent us. If we’re a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us. And our nation stands — stands alone right now in the world in terms of power. And that’s why we’ve got to be humble and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom.”

Obviously, September 11 produced a change. But how could it not have, to at least some extent?

A famous bit of French snark memorably “complains” “This animal is dangerous. When attacked, it defends itself.” That’s a good way to think about both these charges that there’s something as fundamentally diseased about the overall American body politic’s reactions to the burgeoning threats posed by China as there was about the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.

Of course, although some policies will always be rooted in real paranoia, and although their more reasoned counterparts can always go awry for any number of reasons, the failure of Luce, del Pero, and apparently Leffler (along with their Financial Times and Washington Post editors) to recognize a healthy sense of national self-preservation that’s vital in a dangerous world when they see it, is pretty diseased itself. Here’s hoping it doesn’t become epidemic.